Before I was called into ministry I was a cabinet-maker. Most of the cabinets we made were store fixtures for places like The Limited and Victoria’s Secret, as well as furniture, conference tables, and other high end pieces for law libraries. Even though It was custom work built on a bench and not an assembly line, oftentimes there were multiple units needed of the same item. For instance, if it were a law library we would build multiple shelving units and multiple desks. Rather than cut material for each individual item, we would figure out the pieces we needed, and then multiply that by the number of units we needed to build. When all the pieces were cut, we would then assemble them. This saved a lot of time and also assured that quality standards were the same for each unit.
Awhile back I decided to apply the same principle to my sermon writing. Since I usually preach in series, it made sense to put together the whole series at once, rather than working on each sermon by itself. As you’ll see, each individual message gets its own personal attention, but writing multiple sermons at once results in better preparation, better use of time and resources, and is much more efficient in every way. I would estimate that my preparation time has been cut in half.
I am going to give you the basic principles for how I prepare multiple messages at once, but I am not going to go into great detail on basic sermon preparation. In other words, I am assuming you have done the proper Bible study, prayer, commentary reading, and other background work. This is simply the practical nuts and bolts of building a sermon series.
1. Name your series and how many messages there will be (“four” in the title is just an example).
For our example we will stick with four. Get out four pieces of paper, or open four documents in your word processor. Write down the name of the series on each document, and then the individual sermon titles.
Insert the text into your document under the title for each sermon.
3. Write your outline for each message.
Outline the first sermon, then the second sermon, and so on. When you do this and look at all four sermons side by side, you will quickly see areas where you have been repetitive, or where you have not covered the topic/text fully, or other areas that need improvement. Edit and fix whatever needs adjustment. You are now outlining with the impact of the entire series in mind, and not just an individual message. You will find this will drastically alter your perception in a very positive manner. A sermon series is in some ways like a book — while there is a theme to each individual message, it should fit under the broader heading of the theme of the series. This will allow for a much stronger impact on your audience.
4. Place all the Scripture text in the appropriate places.
Insert all Scripture text that you are going to use under the appropriate outline headings. Do this for all points on the first outline, then the second outline, etc…. If you are doing your sermon preparation correctly, you already chose these texts before (or during the process of) making your outline(s). Now put them down on paper.
5. Pick out and place all illustrative material.
This is where you will see HUGE time-savings using this method. You are now searching for illustrative material for the whole series at once, with all four sermons open before you. For instance, you might be looking through an illustration book, reading a magazine, or skimming through videos and find a story or clip that fits well with the series — now determine which sermon it will help to illustrate best. While searching you might find a good illustration for Sermon #3 first, or #1, it doesn’t make any difference. Insert all the illustrations into your outline(s) under the appropriate outline points. If you’re like me, you’ll start moving some illustrations from one sermon to another because you’ll find they are a better fit (this is one of the reasons I do mine on a word processor — it’s much easier to “cut and paste” then retype).
6. Write your Introduction for each message.
Now, with the whole series in mind, write your Introduction, one sermon at a time. Each Introduction should contain some information, even if only a sentence, that connects it to the series as a whole. If you do this right, and you say something like, “In this series we are learning about how to control anger…” you might hook someone who needs help in this area to come back for the whole series. The idea is to build interest in the topic and get them coming back for more.
7. Now, finish writing each individual message.
Go back to Sermon #1 and start writing. You already have a title, outline, Scripture text, illustrations, and Introduction. All of the main parts of the message is already put together. Now begin to fill in the information that will explain each point, tie each point in the outline to the next, and to the sermon, and to the series as a whole. You will be amazed how easy this part will be. I have found having all the hard part done first removes any writer’s block I experienced prior to using this method. Write Sermon #2 and following the same way.
8. Write your Conclusion.
You can either write your Conclusion as a part of writing the individual message (above), or save it until everything else is done and then write all your Conclusions at once. Whichever way works best for you is the way that you should do it. Like the Introduction, try to tie the message to the series as a whole in the Conclusion.
That’s it! While this process is probably somewhat foreign to most of you, it really isn’t all that different from normal sermon preparation. I guarantee you that once you get the hang of this you will not go back to the old way of doing things.
Think of these benefits:
1) Tremendous time saver (without sacrificing quality)
2) Advanced preparation (have your sermons done a month or more in advance)
3) Consistency (your congregation will receive a steady diet)
I’d like to encourage you to try this method and then get back to me and let me know how it worked out for you. Of course, I’d love to hear your comments right now too. Just fill in “Comments” section below.
Barry Davis is a minister, author, and owner of the Pastor’s Helper.